Coronavirus: An Herbalist's View, Part I

Nothing unites countries across the globe like the threat of a pandemic.  Many of us are more acutely aware of international health in the recent weeks than we have been in quite some time, and the information we’re receiving is, well, ‘conflicting’ to say the least, and confusing in almost every context.  So, what do we do now?  I would offer up that the calm before the theoretical storm is the best time to link our communities, pool our intellectual resources, and educate ourselves, and our local communities. 

         While we may be short on information and solutions at this point, what is in abundance is fear and anxiety.  That’s the first thing I would like for this blog post to address.  It’s to share my research, and some herbal answers we’ll be implementing in our household, and for our friends, but it in no way is aiming to do two things: 1. I’m not here to scare you.  In my opinion, this situation should be approached just like we would a particularly nasty flu season. 2. I’m not here to treat, diagnose, or cure you.  That’s not my job.  I’m an herbalist, and my passion is educating and sharing natural options for better support.  This is no time to play the old game of “us vs them” between natural health professionals and conventional medicine practitioners.  If you know me, and the Health & Holistic Network of Corpus Christi, you know collaboration is where we all shine, not competition.

         So, where do we start?  Well, let’s pull the curtain back on what COVID-19 (aka coronavirus) actually is, and what it’s not.  It’s not the bubonic plague.  There is no need for hysteria at this point. I’m not trying to minimize the worldwide human toll here, but I don’t want to add to the fear. National Geographic has put out a fantastic paper on what the COVID-19 virus is, and what it does to the body.  They go into more detail (link at bottom), but I’m going to focus on a particular area.  The World Health Organization has coined the virus as COVID-19.  It’s a cousin, so to speak, of the SARS virus (they’re even referring to it as SARS-CoV-2), which we have some familiarity with.  It’s something to take seriously because of how easily and quickly it spreads, but scientists are improving the diagnostic techniques almost as rapidly.  A critical shift in the detection was the realization that COVID-19 shows patterns of pneumonia just like SARS, so now diagnosis isn’t dependent on a patient being symptomatic, but on a cat-scan of the lungs to check for said patterning.

         What’s important to keep in mind is that this virus starts and ends in the lungs.  This also tells us who is high risk for complications.  Elderly people, and people with pre-existing lung conditions should be monitored for complications, and be in close communication with their physicians.  The virus is spread through droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  This also gives us our #1 way of prevention the transmission, which we’ll look at in just a moment.  An infected person can start showing flu-like symptoms that progress to pneumonia.

The SARS virus showed us that similar diseases tend to move in a three-phase pattern: the replication of the viral strand, immune system response, and pulmonary impact.

SARS-based viruses like COVID-19 are essentially lower lung infections, so they can be expected to invade lung tissue.  Your lung tissue is comprised of two types of cells- one kind produces mucus (goblet cells), and the other contain cilia- little hair-like projections that move mucous, debris and cellular waste out of the lungs.  Think of them like the brushes at a carwash.  The mucous is actually a good thing- it protects and keeps the delicate lung tissue soft and moist, while the cilia are busy moving gross things like pollen and viruses out of the way.  They work together, and they suffer without each other.  SARS & COVID-19 both attack these cilia cells.  So now we have a system that is merrily chugging along, pouring out health mucus, completely unaware that the car wash brushes have stopped.  Not only have they stopped, but they’ve died, and are now adding to the cellular debris loading up in the lungs.  I always think of this like the little sugar bowl in The Sword and the Stone just heaping spoonful after spoonful of sugar into the cup, unaware that it’s overfilling it. This is the point that a person will start showing up with bilateral pneumonia. Now we’re heading into Phase 2 territory….

So your little sugar bowl has been dumping mucus into your compromised lungs, and you’re starting to get sluggish and short of breath.  Now the cytokine proteins start showing up like the umpires at a football game, and start throwing flags. Something is definitely wrong here.  It signals the body’s immune system to hit the red emergency button and start sending in the cavalry!  We need help down here!  However, it fails to relay that it’s already crowded.  It’s trying to help by flooding the area with immune-carrying cells, but ‘flooding’ is the key word.   This is what we call a ‘cytokine storm’ and is bad news bears.  The immune cells that have come to clean up the damage and repair the lung tissue can panic when they see all the traffic and start knocking healthy tissue out as well. Now we’ve upped the damaged tissue and cellular debris even more.  Enter: Phase 3.

Phase 3 is where things really start getting even more serious.  We’re in ‘permanent damage’ territory now.  The damage is extensive enough that you’re looking at scarring in the lung tissue- it’s like pouring super glue in and making the soft, pliable tissue hard, unyielding, and immoveable.  This is where SARS shows it’s fingerprints in the honeycomb texture on a CT scan of the lungs- holes punched where lung tissue should be.  Unchecked inflammation in the lungs can make the exchange sites for blood & oxygen more permeable, which sounds positive, but it’s not.  This wide open gateway (thanks to the cytokine storm) can pool even more fluid in the area, which can lead to respiratory failure, multiple organ failure, and even death.

 

So.

 

Now that we’re all wide awake, let’s look at what we can do, because there is a lot we can be doing to take care of ourselves in the face of this.  Let’s talk basics.

 

  1. Y’all. I cannot say this enough.  Put your alcohol-based handsanitizers down and go wash yo hands with soap and water. The Center for Disease Control believes that only 50% of people wash their hands properly after using the restroom, and 30% don’t wash at all!  Gross. You should be spending at least 20 seconds or more, paying particular attention to the nails, in between fingers, and the palms.  Wash all of it.  All the way to your wrist please.
  2. Stop touching your face. You look fine. Droplet precautions would indicate this right off the bat. Your eyes, nose and mouth are three very high risk areas for letting the virus into your system. Make it harder on them.
  3. This seems minor, but an exhausted, over-taxed system is too tired to fight.  It just wants to sleep and panic, and pneumonia in particular, loves that plan.
  4. In surgery, we say that the solution to pollution is dilution.  This is true for your system as well. Protecting your organs (kidneys especially) is important. The best thing you can give these filtering organs is enough water. They’re working hard.  They deserve a water-break, Coach.
  5. Prepare, not panic. You’re here, so I give you a gold star on that one right off the bat.  But seriously, panic will make you less able to make good decisions, and will further tax your adrenal system, which weakens you.  Make good choices.
  6. REAL food. Fast food will not save you.  Your body needs the nutrients that nature provides you with.  So many of the critical things your body needs are in those leafy green vegetables, and bright colored fruits.  If you’re not a fan, look for fresh, real, cold-pressed juices.  We’re going to set you up with some local sources for that too.
  7. You knew I was going there, right?  I stake my health, and my family’s health on the ability of herbs to aid and balance our systems so we can be our strongest, and only have to visit our doctor when we absolutely need to. I’ll be adding a secondary post to this one going into the details of herbal allies that will help you in the face of COVID-19, and simultaneously prevent accidentally adding to the cytokine storm.  This is important because not all immune-boosting or lung-supporting herbs are going to stay away from that cytokine danger zone.  I’ll say it again- know your herbalist, and make sure they know what they’re talking about. 

 Now that you've got a good background, head to our follow up blog post about herbal allies that can help you face the coronavirus confidently! 

https://arcanemoonapothecaria.com/blogs/news/coronavirus-an-herbalists-response-part-ii

Bibliography:

Getty Images. (2020, February 18). Here's what coronavirus does to the body. Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/02/here-is-what-coronavirus-does-to-the-body/#close

Little, C. (2020, March 1). Coronavirus and Herbs ~ a two part plan! Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://www.studiobotanica.com/coronavirus-and-herbs/

Noveille, A. (2020, February 28). Coronavirus, Herbalism, and Pandemic Preparedness. Retrieved March 3, 2020, from http://blog.indieherbalist.com/herbalism-coronavirus-pandemic/?fbclid=IwAR1VW11yOwxAukCF4drdjPAVr8Gp7s_8yzfSCvVVYneIHtqusOuv-k2Fcxo

 

 

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